School of Marine Studies

School of Marine Studies

Marine Pollution and Toxicology

Mission and Research Lines

Our oceans and aquatic resources are endangered due to pollution, mainly from human action, and sources of pollution are very diverse as well as its effects.

At the School of Marine Studies we are working mainly on establishing baseline data for the presence of chemical pollutants such as metals, oil and nutrients and associated biological effects in aquatic organisms (so called biomarkers). Marine plastics are also an area of research mainly the presence of microplastics. The data will be useful for future monitoring programs and environmental risk evaluation.

The effects of these pollutants (biomarkers) are being studied in aquatic organisms (bioindicators) to understand the mode of action of these pollutants and their negative impact to the wellbeing of these organisms and how these organisms deal with the exposure to these pollutants.

In more detail, our research focus in three main lines: 1) establishment and validation of biomarkers and bioindicator species as early warning tools for the presence of classical and emerging contaminants, in estuarine and coastal environments, 2) study the regulation and functioning of detoxification processes in fish species and to evaluate the potential of emergent contaminants to modulate them, and 3) assessment for the presence of microplastics in marine ecosystems and potential effects to the biota.


Research Projects

●     Assessment of damage caused to the aquatic ecosystem from the sewage spillage in the Cunningham River


Sewage spillages are among the major contributors to aquatic pollution in estuaries and coastal areas. Raw human wastewater contain a mixture of contaminants, that include high concentrations of organic compounds such as carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous. Biodegradation of the sewage organics result in the production of inorganic nutrients (such as nitrate and ortho-phosphorous) which lead to eutrophication of the aquatic environment. Eutrophication is a known consequence of sewages discharges that seriously impacts the health and development of most organisms inhabiting any aquatic environment. Sewage also contains heavy metals and these can bio-accumulate in fish and shellfish making them unhealthy and unsafe for consumption. On December 6 2014, strong winds and floodwaters severely impacted the Central Division of Fiji causing flash floods in low lying areas of Suva. As a result of the heavy downpour and strong winds, the major Suva-Kinoya sewer line located across the Cunningham River at the 4 miles bridge collapsed, sending about 200 litres per second of raw sewage into Cunningham Creek, through Samabula River and into Laucala Bay. This environmental disaster holds severe repercussions for different habitats and in particular for coral reefs and the fauna assemblages that inhabit them as well as the benthic in-fauna inhabiting estuaries and embayments. This investigation will therefore be centred on assessing the immediate and medium term consequences of the sewage spillage over Laucala Bay. The aquatic ecology scope of the work will constitute the bulk of the study by monitoring likely agents of impact of the wastewater discharge on the aquatic ecology and biomarkers in different organism with different levels of complexity.


●     Identification of sentinel species and biomarkers for monitoring Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), metals and microplastics in Suva coastal area.


Protecting marine ecosystems is of crucial importance, especially in Pacific Island countries, because they are extremely dependent on marine resources for food (both subsistence and export), and other economically relevant activities, such as tourism. However, ubiquitous pollutants such as oil, metals and plastics can compromise the marine environment and ultimately the quality of seafood for human consumption. It is therefore critical to monitor oil, metals and plastic pollution in coastal waters and to identify early warning signs of stress due to the human health risks associated with oils, metals and plastic contamination. Biological changes in sentinel species are considered early warning signs, and therefore can be used for risk assessment and evaluation. Measuring the levels of pollutants in fish tissues provides valuable information about human exposure to contaminants that are accumulated in fish tissues. Pollutants can also decrease the nutritional quality of the food. The goal of this project is therefore to perform a first assessment for the presence of oil related pollutants, metals and plastics in Suva area and correlated biological effects in fish species. In addition, it will allow for test and identification of sentinel species and biomarkers to be used in future monitoring programmes in Fiji and in USP member countries. Moreover, the project will attempt to evaluate tourism impact on pollution and pollution impact on tourism and recreational activities.


Research Team

Marta Ferreira

Principal Researcher, Senior Lecturer

Contact: marta.ferreira(at); ferreira.mss(at)

Rufino Varea

Student Master in Science

Thesis: Validating biomarkers of exposure to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH’s) on sentinel fish species in Viti Levu Coastal Area.


Jameel Thompson

Student Master in Science

Thesis: Abundance of Microplastics in water column, sediments and fish guts in Fijis coastal environment.

Contact: s11134534(at); stmichael.thompson(at)

Andrew Paris

Research Assistant

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Page updated: Wednesday, July 19, 2017
School of Marine Studies
Faculty of Science, Technology & Environment
Laucala Bay Road,
Suva, Fiji.
Tel: (+679) 323 2930
Fax: (+679) 323 1526
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